December 14, 2005

Catriona Le May Doan

(info about Catriona Le May Doan)

The Olympic dream realized

Thomas Kieller

Catriona Le May Doan: Grace and speed.

With a dazzling smile, a passion for her sport and remarkable results, Catriona has launched a frenzy into the speed skating world. By taking part at each competition with determination, the lady from the prairies shattered the 500 meter world record eight times! Her performances on the ice ring are extraordinary. Two Olympic triumphs, five world sprint championships and six world cups to name only the most important titles. During fifteen years with the Canadian national team, Catriona shone onto her entourage permitting all to reach high standards. Living the Olympic dream by participating in four Games, she sends, now very simply with her experience and beautiful personality, a message of surpassing oneself, peace and joy.

The phone-interview took place on September 14, 2005 at 14:15 when Catriona was in Toronto, Canada.

Living the Olympic adventures

Thomas Kieller: Your Olympic adventures started in Albertville, France (1992). What are your memories of these first Games?

Catriona Le May Doan: It was overwhelming walking into the opening ceremony. First time, being a part of such big Games and being a part of the Canadian team.

Thomas: Through the years, you took part in four winter Games. In the 3rd one, in Nagano, Japan (1998), you won your first important Olympic victory which permitted you to lay your hands onto the gold medal in the 500 meter event. Was that an achievement for you?

Catriona: It was an achievement. Yes, because it was so stressful… I had been winning, but you know, at every Game, you never know what will happen.

Thomas: Was it your principal goal to win a medal?

Catriona: I think your goal, your principal goal, changes if you’re ranked 20th in the world. In this case, your objective has to be lower down. Throughout the season when I was winning I knew that it was a possibility. So, yes I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t won.

Thomas: What did you think on the podium when the national anthem was playing for your victory?

Catriona (while laughing): I wish I could do it over again, because I hardly remember it.

Thomas: It was so fast?

Catriona (continues in a joyful manner): It was too fast! It was right after the race so there was so much adrenaline.

Thomas: After that first gold medal, what pushed you to continue to train and to take part in other competitions? You won everything.

Catriona: I knew I could be better and this drove me. Was I at the best I could be? Well, I knew I could be better. Also, I wanted to defend. I think sometimes it’s harder to be good all the time than excellent once.

Thomas: Was it natural for you to defend your title in 2002 during the Salt Lake City winter Games (United States)?

Catriona: Nobody did it in Canada before. I didn’t know that until afterwards. Nobody has defended in an individual event. It’s difficult to defend. I was very proud to defend, but it was not easy. There was a lot of pressure.

Thomas: Yes, about that pressure did you feel it because you were the defending champion?

Catriona (confirms that she doesn’t like pressure just with her tone of voice): I don’t like pressure. There was a lot of pressure from the media, from myself, because Canada was not doing well at the Games. I felt pressure from everywhere but mostly from me.

Thomas: From the coach?

Catriona (without hesitating): Not from the coach, mostly me.

Thomas: During your speed skating career, you had other great achievements. You have carried the maple leaf for Canada during the closing ceremony at the Nagano’s Games. At the next Olympics in the United-States, you continued what you already started. You have been chosen to be the Canadian flag bearer for the opening ceremony. Did you hesitate a little bit or did you accept the task right away?

Catriona (laughs and says proudly): Oh… I accepted. People talk about the jinx of carrying the flag. I don’t believe in those things. So, I wanted to prove that it wasn’t true.

Thomas: Did you feel any kind of pressure to carry the flag in front of the huge crowd while knowing that, because of the television coverage, millions of people were watching your steps?

Catriona: No, I felt proud. I was very proud that’s the biggest feeling I had.

Thomas: You have been crowned champion numerous times at the Olympics and in other competitions. You have tasted victory often. For you, is there something more than victory in sport?

Catriona: Yes, victory in life. Success in sport cannot replace happiness in life. The medal will go away. They may break, they may get a scratch, things may happen… If you don’t have happiness and enjoyment in life, than you have nothing.

Thomas: Before your international success, your road was sometimes covered by obstacles. At the Lillehammer Games in Norway (1994), you caught a skate edge during the 500 meter race. You fell on the ice and than you crashed into the barrier. Was it a tough blow?

Catriona: Yes, it was very tough because you feel like you let everybody down. But I really believe things happen for a reason and I think I’m a better person and a better athlete now because it happened. I had to deal with disappointment.

Thomas: Was it long to recover?

Catriona: It went on for a while. It’s difficult because you have to make some decisions. I made sport decisions and life decisions. You question things when you struggle. You have to make decisions.

Thomas: We have already seen skaters fall in the first meters of an event.

Catriona: Jeremy Wotherspoon.

Thomas: Yes. Did it happen to you?

Catriona: No, I mean it’s one of those things that don’t happen often. So, when it does happen, it’s strange. It’s worse when it happens in the first meters.

Thomas: Are the Olympic Games that stressful, especially when we know that it happens every four years?

Catriona: Yah! They are very stressful. Extremely! You train half of your life for it.

Thomas: So, you train mainly for the Olympics.

Catriona: Yes. If someone had to choose success at the world championship or at the Olympics, I think most people will say Olympics.

Thomas: What is the attitude that an athlete should have during competitions to avoid this stress?

Catriona: I think it’s realizing you can’t do it yourself. You need help from your team, from your family, from everybody around you and understanding that the results don’t change who you are or shouldn’t change who you are.

Thomas: In the presence of all the athletes who are coming from many countries paired with the message of peace which is sent during the Games, are the Olympics a special thing for you?

Catriona: Oh yes. That’s the most important thing what the Olympics represent. They represent sports and countries coming together and people competing for their country in peace. When we can have that happen, all the time, with every country represented than we will have succeeded as a world.

Elements required to reach the Olympic Games

Thomas: You won many Olympic medals and you won numerous international contests. What are the elements which had an impact on your success, such as in training?

Catriona: Training is big, but I think more than that is being part of a team, because you cannot do it on your own even in an individual sport. You must have people around you to help you. And it’s important to have a good perspective. You must realize that regardless of what happens in sport or in the playing field, it does not represent who you are. You are still the same person.

Thomas: If we compare long track speed skating to team sports such as hockey, football and soccer, speed skating is focused on individual performance. However, during training is there camaraderie between speed skaters?

Catriona: Often training is done together. But it depends what training. When you get ready for competition, you must do many of the things on your own because you have to compete on your own. About half the training is done as a team and half is done individually.

Thomas: Is there an exchange of technical knowledge between speed skaters or does everyone works in their corner and keep their secrets?

Catriona: I think that depends on each country. I have seen examples of both. In Canada, in general, everybody works well together. The Canadian team wants to be successful as a team. You won’t get better by keeping your secrets. Canadians do well and work well together. Also, some of my friends are from outside Canada. I help them and they help me. And yes, I have seen some countries where the athletes do not work well together and as a team they do not succeed.

Thomas: If the team wants to work well is it more in the hands of the skaters or of the organization?

Catriona: All of the above: coaches, athletes and organizations.

Thomas: When you were at your best, how many times per week did you train because it’s another factor for success?

Catriona: We went six days a week, eleven months a year.

Thomas: Does it vary if it’s an Olympic year?

Catriona: No, every year. We had April off.

Thomas: Are the numerous training sessions an inevitable part of an athlete’s lifestyle?

Catriona: Oh yes! I mean the biggest thing is you have to be willing to do it. Nobody will sit there and will tell you to do it. You have to be driven inside and yes at times it can be very difficult. But when you know what you want to achieve, you have to give yourself that chance.

Thomas: Did you give any special attention to your diet?

Catriona: Not really. I ate well. I ate a lot of meat, but in general I just ate a balanced diet.

Thomas: Did you appreciate this way of life?

Catriona (says happily): Two things. I appreciated it. Now that I’m not doing it, I appreciate not doing it. I appreciate that I can have a beer or wine whenever I want.

Thomas (laughs when he hears Catriona’s last answer): Did your family and your friends play an important role in all of that?

Catriona: Huge. They were always supporting me, always helping me, always there for me.

Thomas: When you were younger, did you practice any other sports besides speed skating?

Catriona (confirms): Yup! I played ringuette, soccer, track and field.

Thomas: What were the events in track and field in which you were competing?

Catriona: I did sprint and heptathlon. Another sport I did for numerous years is ballet.

Thomas: Can you say that these sports help you become better in speed skating?

Catriona: I think so. Some taught me different skills. Dancing taught me balance, flexibility, strength. Soccer is a good team sport. All of them taught me different little things.

Thomas: Also, why did you choose speed skating?

Catriona: Well, my sister tried it and then I thought it looked like fun. When I tried it, I really enjoyed it and I enjoyed the people. So, I wanted to continue. Also, it’s the fastest self propulsive sport. It’s neat to see how fast you can go.

Thomas: At what speed can you go?

Catriona: Women at 55 km per hour.

Thomas (wow!): Do you consider this sport has brought you a lot in your life?

Catriona: Oh yah! It brought me many things. Many personal things. It also opens doors. I help with various charities.

Thomas: Such as?

Catriona: Right to play. It’s an organization by Johann Olov Koss. It started in Canada. The organization goes to disadvantaged countries and it brings sports and health to them.

Thomas: On the sport’s level, what is your greatest moment?

Catriona: It’s very difficult to pick one. I think if I had to pick something that I feel I’m most proud of accomplishing, it will be the consistency for so long.

Thomas: Will you recommend your daughter to practice sport and why?

Catriona: I want her to be active. I would love her to be involved in sport because I believe it’s good physically, but also mentally and emotionally. But I will never pressure her. I was never pressured and I will never pressure her.

Thomas: Is there any chance to see you again at the Olympics?

Catriona (while laughing): Yes. But not competing.